For the record: What Elizabeth May said on Saturday in Ottawa

Elizabeth May on climate, voting, TPP: 'We need to step up as Canadians'

Green Party leader Elizabeth May, speaks to volunteers, campaign staff and supporters, after being re-elected during election night at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, B.C., Monday, October 19, 2015. (CHAD HIPOLITO/CP)

Green Party leader Elizabeth May in Victoria, B.C. (Chad Hipolito, CP file photo)

Green Party members were up against a raucous wedding party Saturday night. The hooting and hollering during Elizabeth May’s keynote address at the Green Party’s biennial convention contested with the cheers from the next ballroom over. The Saanich-Gulf Islands MP’s speech came on day two of the three-day convention. She used it to outline three priorities: Climate action, stopping the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and electoral reform. 

For the record, here’s a transcript of May’s speech.

It’s wonderful to be with all of you, everyone. I really want to thank Paul Manly for a very important briefing on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I wish we had more time to focus on this but I’ll try to get back to it in my speech. But I want to say again a big thank you to Paul Manly for his work as trade critic.

I also want to begin by acknowledging territory. Again, I am very deeply honoured to be speaking to you on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin of Golden Lake. Here we are, and of course you are all eating so don’t worry about it, but it’s good to be breaking bread with you. Of course this does mean, you understand, that I’m not eating. That’s fine, I’m used to hunger strikes.

I’m reflecting on how much has changed in a year, the difference a year has made. In some ways, we faced great disappointment, but I want to turn that page and say how much better everything is. One year ago tonight, I was standing in Toronto, nervously awaiting with, the first time in my life they ever assigned an RCMP detail to me—I think it was to keep the Harper people away from me, but I’m not sure—it was the Maclean’s leader’s debate at a TV studio. It was a surrealistic event, but it does remind me very much that I want to start — and I’m sorry for a moment I’ve separated some of you from your crew — I want to start by thanking all of you who went on that 11-week gruelling journey with me. And I want to thank every single candidate for the federal ticket who ran for the Green Party in 2015. I’d like to ask all those candidates in this room to please stand up and accept our applause and thanks.

It’s a wonderful team, and we all ran together.

There’s one person I want to give a big shout out to and I hope she’s watching online, live-streaming. One of our candidates was supposed to be here at lunch today to give the climate speech, and Bill McKibben kindly stepped in as a last-minute replacement. I want us to all send our love and a big shout out to Claire Martin in Vancouver who’s recovering from cancer surgery. She will be well and back on both feet soon, they removed a chunk of her heel, and she’s got to go through lots of skin grafts and stuff, but Claire, everyone here in Ottawa loves you!

Now I’m not sure if it was entirely clear to people why we were giving Bruce Hyer a roast tonight, but I can tell you when I was going through the Maclean’s debate last year, I had asked everybody working with me what I might say. As you all know, I’m not scripted and I didn’t plan remarks, I never did, all the other leaders they have this weird cult thing that before they go to debates, they do mock debates, they have other people play the other leaders so they can practice their lines to get them just right. Hence, they all appear pretty fake. It’s the culture of the backroom spin doctor people, and it captures most people in politics, but I refuse to do it. That meant, nobody knew what I was going to say ahead of time, including me. And that also speaks true for tonight. As I went into the debate, I kept thinking, is there some moment tonight, August 6, 2015, when I can work in casually a big shout out and happy birthday to my deputy leader Bruce Hyer, Thunder Bay-Superior North. And I couldn’t quite fit it into the debate format, but it is today, as it was last year, Bruce Hyer’s birthday.

I really enjoy, as I think we all did, Frank Grave’s presentation earlier that reminded us of how much things changed.

But at the very beginning of that campaign, I was quite certain that the current prime minister would be soon to be the former prime minister.

As a cathartic exercise, and I invite you to join with me, I no longer refer to the former prime minister by name, I just like to say, former prime minister “what’s his name.” I find this cathartic, helpful.

I knew that was the way the election was going to go because I knew how Canadians felt. I knew that they felt after 10 years watching our environmental laws destroyed, watching our culture shift towards being a less forgiving, a meaner place. A place where the idea we were tough on crime, meant we were dumb on crime policies that would keep people in jail for no reason longer, and we would impose the cost on provinces. Where the idea that we could actually have something as offensive, and I fought it so hard in Parliament, as a piece of legislation called “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act.”

I almost don’t want to go back to those days to remind you what that law did. And they would thump their desks, I did a lot of debates with Chris Alexander, and he would thump his desk and say, “I’m astonished that the honourable member of the Saanich-Gulf Islands is not here to stand up for women, and condemn us of, the honour killings must end. The member of Saanich-Gulf Islands won’t stand up for women.” I point out little details like, huh, murder, kind of always been illegal. But the desk and chest thumping routine went on quite too long, and when it leaked its way into the election campaign — and this is something wonderful about Canada — what’s-his-name once said when he was through with Canada, we wouldn’t recognize it. That’s why I wrote my book, Who We Are, because I don’t think we’ve forgot who we are, who we were, and who we will be.

We are not a people who can be manipulated by fear. And by an appeal to the meanest, mean-spirited instinct within us. But like that old First Nation’s myth, about which way you go when you have two wolves —the wolf that’s with you that represents greed, and the wolf that’s with you when you represent caring. They say in the first nation’s legend, “Which one are you feeding? Which one gets stronger? Which one takes over your heart?” For 10 years we’ve been feeding the wolf that said, “We are a selfish people. We do not want those refugees coming here. We are a mean-spirited people. And yes, we are a group of people who want to be tough on nature. We’re kind of sick of nature pushing us around and it’s time we pushed back.” That can only describe the kind of policies we were seeing.

I think we turned the page on something really important in the election. I need to speak it out loud because I think it’s true and I don’t think it’s been celebrated — certainly not in our media. It runs against type for a political party leader in an opposition party, to celebrate something that the other party did. But it needs to be said: For the first time in a long time, the party that won this election did not use attack ads, not a single one!

I believe, and I like to think, that standing firmly on higher ground and saying we are a country that works better when we work together. By being a party that was willing to say, “Yes, we run above.” By willing to be a party that said at that Maclean’s debate that night, “Well a deficit isn’t that big of a deal.” And there was no huge anvil that landed on me from the skies above and flattened me there. I think I may have helped change the conversation. Certainly, I know from a lot of pollsters, the moment the Conservatives took a permanent nose dive, from which they could never recover, was when they sent poor, hapless, Kellie Leitch forward to advertise the tip line for barbaric cultural practices.

But what that election represented, for sure, was that Canadians rejected a politic of fear and selfishness and embraced a politic of hope and caring and compassion, and we’re never going back.

So I celebrate what Justin Trudeau did, because you know what, when he stood up and said we want to bring in 45,000 refugees, the polling numbers on that were mushy. I may be wrong, Frank, but there was a lot of Canadians saying, “Well, I care about people who are suffering, and that poor little baby Alan Kurdi on the beach, but there could be really bad people hiding among those refugees.” There’s something wonderful about the fact, that when our new Prime Minister met Syrian refugees at our airport, and helped them try on their new winter coats. Canadians said, “Oh, thank God, we’re a good people again.” And the churches in this country and the volunteer groups in this country—we raised money like nobody would believe. I’ve got so many Syrian refugees I’m still trying to get to Canada. I’m on the phone all the time to John McCallum’s office. I am bugging him. But it is true McCallum says he’s got to be the only immigration minister in the world that his problem with the public is that he can’t get the refugees here fast enough.

And that says we know who we are.

So what’s my challenge now, as the leader of the Green Party in a Parliament with a much better government across the aisle?

Well, it’s huge. Because the issues we face are too urgent to wait until the next election. They require we work extremely hard, constantly to ensure that. This is where I have to pause to say how I was raised, and a lot of you have heard this. My mother raised me to believe and understand that you can accomplish anything you want, if you don’t care who gets the credit. Why did we get healthcare, unemployment insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, student loans, not interest bearing student loans, and the flag, in minority Parliament of Lester B. Pearson? It was because in those days, the NDP, under David Lewis and Tommy Douglas, didn’t care who got the credit!

Speaking of the NDP. I just thought it’d be kind of nice to acknowledge the four, former Members of Parliament from the NDP who are Green Party members here working with us tonight, and I want to acknowledge and thank, and they can stand up.

I’d also like to introduce to you, a former member of the Conservative Party who’s here tonight, but there isn’t one. Very soon. Very soon.

So here’s the thing, we are not like the other parties. My goal is to make sure we get real climate action, and I don’t care, and as a matter of fact I would love it, if the record of Justin Trudeau in his first term as prime minister, is that we show global climate leadership and actually deliver on the Paris Agreement. I don’t mind.

We won’t be sitting back, like the other parties do, “Hope he does the wrong thing so later we can criticize him for it.” Look, this isn’t about politics. Our grandchildren’s lives are at stake, and I know we all feel the same way. Climate action trumps partisanship!

I talk to reporters all the time, who somehow think we have absolutely no oral foundation. That we are completely by the idea that we might get credit for something down the line if only others mess up first and later we can get the credit. My god they don’t understand the space. I don’t think there’s a single person who understands climate science who thinks it’s important we get the credit. What we need is to get the action.

And that means we cannot allow the climate target that was put in place by the former government, six months before Paris, to continue to be cited almost every single day in some place in our national media, as though that’s the Paris target. Please, help. The 30 per cent below 2005 by 2030 target put in place by Leona Aglukkaq in May 2015 is inconsistent with the Paris Treaty by 1.5 degrees. It’s not just the weakest target in the G7, it is inconsistent with our survival and therefore, it is disturbing to me, that this long after the election, Justin Trudeau has not yet replaced that target and ramped it up to a meaningful one. So we have to push him to it, because you know what, I think he wants to do it. But nobody asks. And nobody demands, it simply won’t happen. We have to push hard for moving away from fossil fuels as rapidly as possible, which of course means no to Energy East and no to Kinder Morgan. Those are no-brainers. It means yes to a whole lot more.

I don’t like the expression “holding someone’s feet to the fire,” it hardly sounds friendly. Can we start talking about how we have to hold their marshmallows to the fire? We have to really spin it, with the marshmallow on the end of the stick and we have to roast it nicely. But I will not let Justin Trudeau off the hook for his major election promise that 2015 will be the last election held under first-past-the-post.

He promised the 63 per cent of Canadians who voted for candidates who had platforms that we were going to get rid of first-past-the-post.

There’s never been a time where I’ve encountered — and this is bad of me, this is very bad of me — (Paul Martin once said, a politician who criticizes the media, is like a sailor who complains about the sea). So I’m going to complain about the sea.

What we face is an obstacle, and this is an obstacle to climate change as well, it’s an obstacle to almost anything, is a wall of cynicism.

After 10 years of not covering climate, I understand that most the people in our national media have lost the thread. They don’t understand climate science, they don’t understand what it means to stay below two degrees Celsius, global average temperature increase below what it was at the time of the industrial revolution. Well, who can understand that? That’s the goal. To keep global average temperature no more than two degrees Celsius above what it was before the industrial revolution. And there’s no way to say that in the short form. I’ve heard major TV news readers and personalities ask point blank, “Can they keep to the two per cent.” Oh dear lord, there is no two per cent, there’s two degrees.

But what is the perfect cover for total ignorance of the issue? Cynicism. It works every time. They just have to say one party is just like the other and they’re not going to beat it. Cynicism is our problem. Cynicism is our enemy. And in the case of our electoral reform promise, the wall of cynicism is intense.

As a member of the parliamentary committee on electoral reform, I stand in front of you and say from the bottom of my heart, I don’t think we’re going to be forced to accept some system that the parliamentary committee doesn’t choose. I believe it’s open and honest and engaging, and we hear from Canadians and experts and come up with a consensus report for an electoral system for fair voting, for a proportional representation that will work for Canada. That’s our goal as MPs and I believe we will deliver on it, and I do not think the game is rigged.

But I’ve had very seasoned reporters say to me—and I’ve had not one reporter believe me when I say this—some have gone so far as to say, “I bet you a week’s salary that report’s already written, and it’s already sitting in the PMO and they’re just going to push it through, and it’s going to be for ranked ballots because that advantages the Liberals.” I don’t believe that. I believe that this is open, fair, and engaged democracy, through representative democracy, through the legitimacy of the Parliament, that we are engaging with Canadians to come up with the right answer, and much depends on how much Canadians engage with us.

So we all have a job to do. We need to ensure in all of our communities, when there’s a town hall meeting hosted by a member of Parliament, or when the committee I’m on goes out on the road to every single province and territory in this country to hear from Canadians, we need to make sure the grassroots are there and the mic is not occupied by astroturf. We have to get out in big numbers.

We need to step up as Canadians and let our government be what people around the world are now noticing about us, they sound a little bit different, a bit more compassionate than the others. With what’s happening right now south of the border, where they’re politics have entered into a zone of of toxic free-fall that is truly frightening for people who love not just democracy, but civilization. We have to recognize that Canada just started representing something different, and I really don’t think we can afford to be petty in our partisanship. We need to celebrate the fact that when horrors like the Brexit referendum and the splitting up of the UK away from the EU and the threat that we’ll lose the regulations that Caroline Lucas and the Green Party in the UK helped protect through European Union regulations, to help protect against fracking. They’re worried all of that will be brought back.

So we know that in the world right now, Canada is looking — and a year makes a big difference — Canada is looking kind of hopeful. Kind of inspirational. Kind of a place that ages ago, we knew that people would say, “Gee, we need more Canada. We need more of that.” And we can step up and help in a big way, not in a friendly like way, I’m not suggesting that for a minute. On trade deals, we are the experts on investor-state agreements, and we need to stand up and say clearly to Justin Trudeau and his cabinet, that there is no way in this world that we should ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, and more than that, we need to say really clearly as India just did, we need to start a global conversation that’s international to take apart all the existing investor-state agreements that give foreign corporations superior rights to government.

We have to do this. We just lost a Chapter 11 case, a NAFTA case, that affected Nova Scotia, a case I worked on so long when I was with the Sierra Club, where a U.S.-based corporation wanted to put an open-pit quarry for basalt, to dig up basalt from Digby, Nova Scotia, and run fast ships down to New Jersey to build more highways. Many problems with this plan, including this was a rural area, not industrial, and the lobster fishermen were all against it, the community was against it, it also affected the most endangered whale species on the planet, the right whale, at one point fewer than 300 individuals. The environmental assessment panel was chaired by Bob Fournier from Dalhousie University and that environmental assessment panel who said this project is so bad, there’s no way for it to be mitigated, it must be turned down. And Bilcon of New Jersey, if they felt they were treated unfairly, they actually had a right to go to a Canadian court, a federal court, and say, “Wait, that isn’t fair. We never knew they cared so much about the things that were actually in that law, called the Environmental Assessment Act.” There was in the Environmental Assessment Act, we used to have, provisions to protect community values and socio-economic conditions of local communities. And their argument was, “We didn’t know you cared about that stuff. No one told us.”

They didn’t go to federal court to claim they were unfairly treated. They went to Chapter 11 of NAFTA to a backroom hearing to claim $300 million against Canada because of the profits they claim they might have made had they been able to threaten the survival of the most endangered whale species on the planet. And in a two to one arbitration decision, Bilcon won. This is the worst of all the decisions yet, because it’s the first time a foreign corporation has avoided going through a domestic court before going to the corrupt—and I will say corrupt, they are not fair, they are not neutral, there’s abundant evidence for this—told me they have conflict of interest and you bet they do. These global arbitrators, and there’s a handful of them, get $1,000 an hour for sitting in a hotel room and taking away the democratic rights of nations and giving damages to foreign corporations. They are global, ambulance-chasing, blood-sucking lawyers and they really should be ashamed.

We have a way forward. I want to say how grateful I am again to Frank Graves for pointing out where what we say resonates with so many people. So I just want to speak to justice issue for a moment. I think Canada has an opportunity right now, if we choose to push for it, to put into practice, as a large, industrialized, successful country, the prescriptions to end for all time economic inequality. We have a chance to talk to people like Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and say, “Come on up here and give us a hand.” Let’s see if we can’t end poverty with a guaranteed livable income.

Stiglitz, by the way, gave an incredible presentation at the University of British Columbia last fall that I was privileged to attend and talk to him about investor-state agreements. He’s passionately against the TPP, he said it’s not a trade deal, it’s about management of trade, and it’s all in the interest of foreign corporations. But his work as an economist is worth grabbing, and picking up and reading about income inequality. He said, you know the prescription of the Reagan-Thatcher years is no longer ideological. One can’t even begin to pretend that smaller government, lower taxes works. It is empirically a giant failure. It doesn’t work. Look what it’s done to the United States. Right now, this was a stat that Joseph Stiglitz shared that I hadn’t heard, life expectancy in the United States is going down. For whom? For white men. They’re dying more from suicide and addictions. This is not a good sign in a healthy democracy. The gap between the rich and the poor in one of Barack Obama’s speeches, he said the gap between the rich and the poor gives us vertigo. Canada could start leading the way on this, too, by taking the prescriptions of the kind of economist who understands that the public sphere matters; that fair taxation matters; and that billionaires should pay more tax than the ladies that clean up their office.

I’m committed that before the next election, we ensure that the path to move off fossil fuels, not only in Canada but globally, has been set. That we’ve charted the course to a better horizon where we don’t fear for our children’s future, but know that we have protected it, and that we know that we have actually delivered for Canada the biggest reform to an unfair voting system, the biggest reform in democracy since women got the vote, the biggest reform that we can deliver before the 2019 election, and that’s proportional representation, we can do it before the next election, and we can stop the the TPP. These are my three big priorities: Proportional representation, climate action, and stopping the TPP. And in all of that, I’m inspired every single day because all of you working out there together with me. I may be alone in Parliament, but I know I’m not alone. I feel your support, and I often feel your prayers, and I am deeply grateful, because together, as a party with 20,000 members across this country, mobilized, committed, working together tirelessly, because honestly, sleep can wait til when we’ve protected our children.

And we must speak out and defend human rights, and for that I am grateful to those who put us into a difficult debate that we will continue tomorrow, but thank God we’re the kind of party that can openly discuss issues that should not be marginalized based on bullying and fear in the public space; to be afraid to say out loud there are human rights issues for Palestinians and we must hold the government of Israel to account. This is not something we should be afraid to say.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something I kind of thought I might say, but I just want to close with the words of the Reverend Martin Luther King, because I think we need to know that the road may be long, but I think we’re on the right track. Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Thank you.

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